Malibu safety record

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I am puzzled by this quote in your SR-20 review:

"A typical flight in the Malibu might involve five minutes of
instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) on the way up and the way
down but otherwise bright sunshine above the clouds, just as in a jet.
This is an inherently safer way to travel that has nothing to do with
the avionics"

This sounds logical, but every reference that I have read seems to
indicate that the safety record of the Malibu hasn't been all that
good. While I haven't read a direct comparison of the Malibu vs.
Saratoga, it is my understanding that the Saratoga (a similar, but
non-pressurized aircraft) has a pretty good safety record, while the
Malibu does not. How does your "just fly over the bad weather" theory
account for the less than ideal Malibu safety record?

Also, the Malibu suffered from an number of in-flight break-ups during
the late 80's. Do you know how this problem was resolved?

-- David Sanford, March 9, 2007


If you fly a Malibu by yourself into weather that would challenge a jet with a professional crew of two, you're probably not going to be all that safe. If the tops are forecast to 15,000', though, and you will have 500' of ceiling for the approach at the destination, I stand by my theory that it is safer than doing the flight in a non-turbocharged non-pressurized non-deiced plane. I guess it is tough to resist the temptation to use an aircraft to its maximum capabilities and beyond, e.g., load it up to gross weight and fly on a day when the weather in the 20-25,000' altitudes is challenging and the forecast at the destination is poor.

The in-flight breakups were resolved, I think, by getting people to stop flying into thunderstorms and also by insurance companies insisting on more serious training. The FAA found that the wings didn't come off until the Malibu reached 400 knots. In the old days, a pilot without an instrument rating could buy a Malibu and get insurance. I don't think that is true anymore.

The newer Malibus have somewhat more redundancy than the originals. The original had a single vacuum pump and an attitude indicator that ran from that single vacuum source. If the pump failed and the attitude indicator started to fall over, the autopilot would follow. The pilot was supposed to notice this somehow and switch on the electric standby vacuum source. Now all of the Malibus have two vacuum pumps and automatic failover (and I guess the newest ones have an all-electric panel with two alternators and two batteries).

All of this said, my mechanic is not a fan of the Malibu. He says that you stop at the Bonanza and then you start up again with the TBM, Pilatus, or King Air.

-- Philip Greenspun, March 10, 2007


Richard Collins of "Flying" fame has written about the safety of the Malibu/Mirage and the P210 several times. From what seemed like a thorough investigation, he determined that these pressurized pistons have the worst safety record of all civilian airplanes except for the homebuilts. Big question is why. Malibus have had some in-flight break-ups in turbulence and/or loss of control (some caused by a faulty or forgot-to-turn-on pitot heat), and they have been graded as having a very high workload in the hands of an average GA pilot. As for the sunshine above the clouds, some of the worst weather is often reported to be in the "middle altitudes" around 20,000 ft, where these aircraft are happy generally. Also the Malibu is very slick, picking up speed rapidly if left in a dive for a brief moment. Next is the engine - hard-working and often hot-running, with some technical short-cuts to save weight and cost. Especially the P210 had more than its share of engine-related accidents. Then there is the issue of flying an aircraft with such an "all-weather" aura to it. Maybe a Malibu pilot/owner is less inclined to stop because of weather than the pilot of a simpler plane. And, these aircraft have higher landing and take-off speeds than e.g. a Saratoga, so, any unsuccesfull landing or take-off will have more dire consequences, as a 10% higher "transition" speed on average results in 30% more injuries when there is an accident. R. Collins has owned and flown a P210 for 20ish years now, so any bias he might have, should not tend to exaggerate on accident numbers. He is probably the pilot with the most hours in a pressurised piston in the world. In any case I find his analyses credible.

I am not sure the problems about Malibu in-flight break-ups are resolved, but there has been a lot of focus on pilot training, and it ought to have helped. I have never heard of any break-ups due to design or manufacturing.

-- Henrik Vaeroe, March 9, 2007


Phil's theory that just flying over the bad weather is a better solution than having lots of avionics to fly through it is an interesting theory, but it would seem that it may not hold true given the Malibu safety record.

Seems to me that faster planes require advanced piloting skills, and when a fast plane is piloted by an inexperienced pilot, trouble results.

In my mind that is the inherent problem with the SR-20. A novice pilot views it as a simple and safe plane to operate. (The latest design with all the bells and whistles... and a parachute!!! What could be safer than that?) Just because you take out the prop control and gear lever it doesn't mean you have a entry level plane.

-- David Sanford, March 9, 2007